I have to say that your "numbers" and their interpretation seem rather accurate. Does that mean that, what we lose in quantity, we also lose it in quality? Not that sure, but it's only a feeling, and completely and only my opinion. It's not what I intend to be the truth or what I wish this community would have to enforce, but (yup, another analogy ^^) rather than a huge field, with thousands of trees, with millions of fruits, some of them fallen on the ground, some of them in baskets, waiting, with some rotting, with bees flying around, I'd just love a nice basket, with very few nice, gorgeous and appetizing fruits. Then, pick one, and squeeze the fruit to get only the best of the juice, concentrated, tasty, and "recycle" the pulp and the bark.
What does that mean? Well, from ages ago, all big empires have fallen. Alexander the Great. Rome. Egypt. Darius & Xerxes. Napoleon. Britannia. USSR. And so on... As our History shows, all great "empires", at one point, or, as end point, collapse. They fell because they grew too quickly and/or too much, and were unable to control their conflicting cultures or point of view.
We have to separate the wheat from the chaff. And that won't be possible if we have too much of an harvest, and not enough trained people to handle it.
Do we need more traffic? According to SE policy about beta, graduation, life & death of new stacks, yes.
Do we need (all) that comes with it? no. We need the new users, the new Q/A, the new POV, the new content. We don't need the problems delivered with them. So, as we know what we'll be facing, we have to take care of the problems before they arise. We'd better!
If we go back to HNQ now, are we ready to handle what will happen? Or will we end up like some stacks I know (and left, or just visit once in a while now, but no name calling!), those who have not enough Q/A because they don't attract peoople, one-liners, on/off answers, harsh wording/ideas, can't find a mod, and/or who left question such as "Should I do X? Or should I wait? Or what do you think of Z?" quickly get 5 or 6 answers, war over good/bad comments, VTC and so on. With, sometimes, the same people answering and VTC'ing at the same time. really? Is that what we want?
At this time, we walk. Slowly. This allows us to quickly take care of the chores. And it's not really a mess here. Will we have the same quality of house cleaning with a big increased number of newcomers and the impact of inflation on membership? If we start running, will we have enough time to help them, not with the "rules of respect", but with the "rules of quality"?
Lil' note on the side: personally, I even have time to clean AND answer sometimes :) and this was not the case with the HNQ traffic.
I believe that our top priority should be setting our common boundaries, build a fence, and write the welcome & warning signs. NEW ones. Re-phrased. Cleaner. Why? I've asked some people who know nothing about SE to come over here and tell me how it works. "far too complicated" they said... Either you skip many guidelines and write the wrong Q/A, or you lose yourself in an ocean of guidelines. They found it at best, boring. And discouraging. They gave up and were gone...
So, before we start running (again?), let's talk about quality first, the quality of our steps, and the quality of our "moonwalk". Will we need to be back to HNQ? YES. But don't we try to imitate or impersonate any other stack. Let's find/mark out our path first.
Inops, potentem dum uult imitari, perit. (1)
(1) if I make no mistake, this is part of Phaedra (Racine), a tragedy written in late 17th century (167?), and could be roughly translated to [ The "peasant" (weak), wanting to imitate the "landlord" (powerful), loses himself. ]